Okay, Scrivener, I’m a devotee

In which I hail Scrivener.

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I don’t need new word processing software. MS Word works just fine (mostly), thank you very much. Another paid form of word processing? Definitely not. There’s always Ywriter (for free!), if I’m feeling really desperate.

Oh, there’s a free 30-day trial? And it’s a real 30-day trial, as in you get to try it for 30 days, not as in the 30-day countdown to your software turning into a pumpkin starts the microsecond you install it? Well, why not?

Forget 30 days. I think I was actually addicted to using Scrivener less than 24 hours after installing the software. I’ve been obsessively importing my works-in-progress, including all the background information, and Scrivener has been slurping it in like it’s never met a note or a bit of meta-data it didn’t cherish. The thought of having of export everything out again when the trial expires, even if it just went back to the same format it was in yesterday, is actually a little upsetting.

So congratulations, Scrivener. You win. I love you to bits. Word can return to the pits of frustration and despair from whence it came, and never darken my door (except for day job work, oh, and exporting drafts).

When I first starting playing with the software, I was afraid I was just having a little too much fun importing stuff. What if it was just helping me procrastinate? Then I sat down and revised a chapter that needed revising easily. After that, I was convinced: the nightmare of navigating a 200+ page manuscript is over. I can jump around my manuscript scenes like a bunny on steroids, view parts side by side vertically, and attach notes everywhere. And I can actually just sit down to write and revise. Sooo much better than before. Scrivener wins everything.

Broccoli-eating of writing

Or why frustrating limitations can be useful.

There’s this fantasy anime/manga favorite of mine, Hunter X Hunter, which has a world-building detail I used to find random and arbitrary. The characters of this world, who invent and develop their own superpowers, can make themselves significantly more powerful by putting extreme limitations on themselves. Want that fireball to have some real juice to it? Make it so you can only produce fireballs during odd days of the month when you’ve eaten at least 10 chili peppers first. Want to be able to fly really, really fast? Make it so you have to spend the rest of your time in a wheelchair and then first recite a 10-minute epic poem to the wind in a foreign language. (In case you’re wondering, neither of these are real examples from the series.)

Limitations on superpowers are essential in story-building, to make sure the superpowered don’t just smite their opposition out of existence. Just ask the creator of Superman’s Kryptonite. Or just ask whoever tried to write a storyline for Peter Petrelli in Heroes season 2. But there was something about the way Hunter X Hunter said outright that limitations equal power. As though it was a philosophical stance, not just a plot-writing necessity.

Which brings us to Twitter.

I have only a slight acquaintance with tweeting, but in my experience it’s hard. Banging out some one line response that boils down to either, “Haha, you’re so right!” or “Grrr, no, and now I dislike you!” is one thing. But actually crafting something that’s meaningful yet humorous, or poignant yet comprehensible, or incisive yet fair? And then fitting it into a 140-character post? Without using so many shortcuts that the post looks like a preschooler’s message in crayon crossed with the output of an Enigma machine?

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“…that make us sound illiterate and probably leave out important context.”

A good tweet is art, my friends. Half the time I find myself “liking” tweets more for their technical delivery than for their message. Anyone can explain themselves if you give them enough space; boiling essays down to the size of an aphorism is brilliant.

There are also other restricted writing modes. My library had a “Tiny Story Contest” a few months back, where entries were limited to 420 characters.  I wrote a few tiny stories, just for the hell of it, and had fun but found it challenging. How do you fit plot, characterization, and setting into 420 characters? It’s the same kind of challenge I have writing tweets; how do you lay out even the slightest complexity in 140 characters? Because I’m stubborn, and I refuse to give up on complexity.

One thing these limitations have taught me is that I use too many useless qualifying words that can be cut when something makes me. I also use a lot of long, complicated words and phrases that can be replaced with something shorter. The complicated words aren’t always the wrong ones; but often the writing becomes stronger with simplification because it’s cleaner and clearer.

Incidentally, this is an awareness I plan to apply to a book draft I’ve been working on … which might be too long.

So, just like eating broccoli is good for my health, I’m convinced that practicing tweets and other short forms would be good for my writing style. (Twitter itself might be less good for my blood pressure, but that’s another kettle of rotting fish heads to deal with.)

Seems I’ve come around to the idea that limitations can make you stronger, after all.

And, also incidentally, I like eating broccoli. Especially in teriyaki stir-fry. Yum.